Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign County Board has ended its long-running debate on Olympian Drive.
On a 19-to-7 vote, board members settled on a plan to connect the dead-end road north of Champaign with Lincoln Avenue in Urbana, where it connects with Interstate-74. Two weeks after rejecting a 'green' option, the Board approved a 'purple' configuration of North Lincoln expected to have less of an impact on residents, cutting diagonally through property owned by Squire Farms.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing praised the board's diligence after backing the Olympian project herself for years.
"This has thoroughly discussed," she said. "There's people around the world that want democracy. I don't know if they realize how exhausting it is, but certainly it's a better system that people have ever come up with. And I think the county board really took this seriously. And they studied it, and I think they've come to a conclusion."
Thirteen Democrats and six Republicans supported the project. Five of the seven 'no' votes came from rural Republicans, as well as Champaign Democrats Pattsi Petrie and Alan Kurtz.
The plan was approved with an amendment offered by Urbana Democrat James Quisenberry, who wanted to ensure the design didn't move any further south and east, where it could impact other residents.
"The property owners that the road goes right next to are the ones that are going to be most affected," Quisenberry said. "And they didn't really want the road there in the first place, but now that it's going there, we have to make sure they're protected as much as we can."
Prussing said the city will still work with individual landowners to alleviate any concerns as the project moves forward. She said anyone losing land will be paid for it by Champaign County or the city of Urbana, but those that do not agree would require govermment use of eminent domain for property.
The Olympian Drive portion of the project is expected to be built in 2013, with the stretch of Lincoln Avenue to be finished in 2015. The entire project is estimated at nearly $20-million, paid for through Illinois Jobs Now funding, the state motor fuel tax, and federal funds.
Officials at the Mitsubishi Motors North America plant in central Illinois say they have enough parts to keep making cars for another two weeks but they're awaiting word on whether Japan's massive earthquake and tsunami could lead to production disruptions.
Mitsubishi Motors North America spokesman Dan Irvin told The (Bloomington) Pantagraph that the production hubs of the firm's parent company, Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Motors, weren't affected by the disaster.
But Irvin says the North American subsidiary is still waiting for updates from companies that supply some parts for use at the plant in Normal.
The plant produces about 34,000 vehicles a year and employs more than 1,000 people.
After a long and bitter debate, a partial deal has been reached to continue expansion of O'Hare International Airport.
It took the federal government to mediate negotiations between the City of Chicago and United and American Airlines, the biggest carriers at O'Hare. For now, the newly announced $1.17 billion dollar agreement funds parts of the O'Hare Modernization Program, including rerouting roads and installing a runway on the airport's South Side.
The airlines had long said that O'Hare isn't busy enough to warrant an expansion, but United CEO Jeff Smisek says U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood helped changed his mind.
"Do we need this runway today? Of course not. But we do believe that with time, we will and we're willing to help fund our portion," Smisek said.
When asked what the city gave up to move negotiations forward, Mayor Richard Daley would only say, "I'm not gonna mention it."
Negotiations over the rest of the expansion are expected to resume in two years.
UI Holds Forum on Proposed Cuts to Institute of Aviation
The University of Illinois held a public forum Tuesday night to get feedback about a budget recommendation to break up the 65-year-old Institute of Aviation.
Events Friday tied to the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day brought in a large amount of people to East Central Illinois...thanks in part to the social networking website, Facebook.
Extra police officers from Champaign, Urbana, and the University of Illinois campus were stationed around the community to prevent major disruptions and maintain public safety. There were 364 people who received court appearance notices for charges related to indecent behavior and public intoxication, and more than half of those cases were people who lived outside the Champaign-Urbana area.
While these figures are up from 2010 and 2009, Urbana Police Lieutenant Robert Fitzgerald said he thinks his department did a great job during the night.
"The police departments were all out there in force to make sure that everyone was safe," Fitzgerald said. "I don't think we could change much in the next year than what we did this year."
Meanwhile, a University of Illinois student who was struck by two vehicles over the weekend has died. According to the Champaign County coroner's office, 21-year-old Bradley Bunte passed away late Monday morning. He had been in critical condition since late Friday night, when an eastbound van clipped him at University and McCullough in Urbana. Bunte was then run over by a second vehicle. He was a Champaign native and a sports reporter for the Daily Illini.
Urbana Police are not saying at this point if the incident was connected to the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
Students, instructors, and graduates of the University of Illinois' Institute of Aviation say administrators want to close a valuable program at a time when it's needed most.
About 80 of them Thursday discussed an industry that stands to lose about 37,000 pilots in the U.S. alone over the next 10 years. U of I Graduate Nathan Butcher is now a Delta pilot. He said there's a decline in training overall, and many pilots are nearing their mandatory retirement age. Butcher said administrators have a very narrow view of the Institute, which is turning out more than pilots.
"The Institute of Aviation is a long standing center for excellence in the field of professional pilot training, aviation research, and aviation safety advancements," he said. "Unfortunately, the university's administration defines the Institute of Aviation's role as being very technical and only worth of trade school status. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Willard Airport Tower Air Traffic Controller Kevin Gnagey said two thirds of his workforce is nearing retirement age, and that the Institute generates 85% of the traffic they direct at Willard. Gnagey contends the U of I is also throwing away the chance for future research on airport grounds.
"I would also be so bold as to assert that losing the Institute of Aviation could pose a large loss to the University of Illinois," he said. "This loss may not be immediately evident, but as the FAA is investing billions of dollars into research and development in new technology for the next generation of the national airspace system, opportunities would be lost."
Instructor and U of I graduate Joseph McElwee said while no decision has been made, he says administrators are trying to make closing the institute easier by moving remaining faculty to other academic units, and denying Fall 2011 admission to new applicants.
"They say that no decision has been made, so we don't have to bargain with your VAP's (Vistiing Academic Professionals)," McElwee said. "But at the same time, if you think about this, it's just an academic institution. And so the backbone of this is the students. And if we don't have students, there's no one to teach."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the recommendation to close the facility came after evaluating competing interests of students, faculty, and the public, and determining that closing the Institute and discontinuing degree programs were in the best interests of the Urbana campus. She also cites declining enrollment at the Institute in the past decade, noting it had 176 applicants in 2002, admitting 119, and 65 freshman enrolled. In 2010, the Institute had 112 applicants, admitting 65 and 34 enrolled.
A hearing on the Institute's future will be held Tuesday before Urbana campus Senate. The plan must also go before the U of I's Board of Trustees and the State Board of Higher Education.
Champaign County Board members have narrowly rejected a plan to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue.
Tuesday night's 13-to-10 committee of the whole vote followed another backing the long-debated extension of Olympian itself. But opponents felt plans for the 'green route' or north-south 'S' curve connecting Lincoln to Olympian would impact too many landowners, with no guarantee the route would lure industry. Republican Alan Nudo favors further research, with those residents involved.
"I'm all for Urbana having commercial-industrial in this area, because that's what it's going to be," Nudo said. "It's in a mile and a half, and I think it's a fait accompli. But we need to take care of the residents in there, and do it right."
Nudo said a new phase of research will provide options, and enable for compromise.
Democrat Tom Betz said it is hard to disagree with those arguments and side with economic interests, but he supported the plan.
"We are creating an artery, and method by which development can take place," Betz said. "But I think it is more likely to happen as a result of this than if we do nothing. Right now, Olympian Drive kind of is a road to nowhere. The county needs some economic development. It's not just the city of Urbana."
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she hasn't given up on the green option, and could return to the county board in two weeks. She said she wants to develop some cost estimates for an altered plan, but won't start over from scratch.
"We''ll modify what things cost, but we're not prepared to say 'we need to spend $170,000 (on a new study)," Prussing said. "What this is really - we can't find perfect. And sometimes, my philosophy is, you just gotta settle for excellent."
A study of options to the west would take 18 months. Champaign County Highway Engineer Jeff Blue said consultants can estimate the cost of some new alignments. But he said a new study should start by April, or the Olympian Drive project could risk losing the $15-million in state and federal money.
There's another delay in litigation over O'Hare International Airport expansion that pits United and American airlines against the city of Chicago.
A statement Friday from United Airlines and American says a new five-day delay will give the parties more time to resolve their differences over the financing and timing of construction of new runways and other improvements at O'Hare.
It says the latest delay comes at the request of U.S. Department of Transportation. The agency has been trying to mediate an agreement.
On Thursday, the sides asked a judge to lift a one-week delay on hearing the airlines' lawsuit that opposes the issuing of bonds for the expansion.
Mayor Richard Daley has accused the airlines of reneging on their promise in 2001 to help see through the overhaul of O'Hare.
Imagine riding in a car with a license plate that has an advertisement tacked on promoting a restaurant, soft drink, or sports team. Well, that may become a reality in Illinois.
One Chicago Democrat has introduced legislation designed to create corporate-sponsored license plates to generate revenue. It is part of an effort to help plug the state's $15 billion budget deficit.
"It's not a novel idea to have advertising on certain stadiums, or buses, or somewhere," State Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) said. "But we need to start thinking of other ways to generate revenue that's going to keep recurring year after year."
The plan would give motorists the option of purchasing cheaper license plates with the advertisements. Companies interested in promoting their business would make up the cost difference, and pay an additional amount. The money would go to the state and a contractor overseeing the program, but it's unclear how much money both sides would get.
"If we took a million people that wanted to be engaged in this program, and if the state were to say get $10 a plate, it could be an additional $10 million a year," Mulroe said.
Mulroe calls this a "win-win" for the entire state because taxes would not go up, and Illinois would generate more revenue.
Texas is currently the only state to sell corporate license plates. Other states including Florida, Nebraska, and Virginia have looked at similar proposals.
(Photo courtesy of CyberDrive Illinois)
The manager at Willard Airport says commercial flights there won't be affected by the possible closure of the U of I's Institute of Aviation.
Steve Wanzek likely the biggest impact would be the downgrading of the airport's control tower, since 90-percent of the takeoffs and landings are pilots in training through the U of I. On Thursday, university administrators recommended that the Institute close once current students complete their degrees, or by the spring of 2014.
Wanzek said the Federal Aviation Administration could lose a few jobs at Willard, as well as training opportunities.
"A hundred-thousand activities in a non-O'Hare (International Airport) environment is a lot of activity, and they get a lot of exposure for trainees here," Wanzek said. "And that opportunity for the FAA will diminish as the institute slows down and if it goes away."
But Wanzek said the potential closing of Aviation won't affect Willard's efforts to construct a new tower, which he said should be finished by the end of next year. Meanwhile, the President at Flightstar hopes to make up for a loss of about $100-thousand in revenue that the Institute brings his facility each year - if it does close by 2014. Bill Giannetti said the loss is significant, but his business will survive. Flightstar does maintenance and charter flight service at the airport.
Giannetti said it is a shame that the Institute of Aviation and its deteriorating buildings have gone neglected by the U of I for years.
"My fear is the Institute will shut down, the FAA will build a new control tower, so we'll have a number of buildings that are going to be empty, going into a state of neglect, kind of like what we've seen with some of the buildings in Rantoul," Giannetti said. "These are old buildings. They really, at some point, needs to be demolished."
Gianetti said he had hoped the U of I would construct a new facility for Aviation, making it competitive with other schools that have better facilities.
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